Courtesy: Western Hockey League
Regina Pats (25-20-5-0) at Swift Current Broncos (33-12-3-1)
Saturday, January 27 – Credit Union i-Plex 2:30pm (Central)/1:30 p.m. (Mountain)
Channels: Sportsnet, Sportsnet Now, WHL Live
With the competition growing fiercer each and every day among the six teams in the Western Hockey League’s East Division, Sportsnet’s Saturday Showcase broadcast between the Regina Pats and Swift Current Broncos is a matchup that will deliver on all fronts.
It’s also the first of two intense home-and-home battles between the Pats and Broncos that will play a large part in determining playoff seeding coming down the stretch.
With a 6-2-2-0 record in their last 10 games, the Pats have made up enough ground to work themselves back into the race for third place in the East Division, sitting six points back of the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Wheat Kings seem like the most realistic target for the Pats to overtake, given that the league-leading Moose Jaw Warriors and second place Broncos enjoy 24 and 15 point leads respectively over the Pats.
The early season struggles of the Pats have been well documented, but the team has appeared to leave that all in the past and eager for the post-trade deadline run that has seen them go 4-1-2 since Jan. 10. All stretches this season have been must-wins for the Pats, but this upcoming stretch could prove to have the most impact. Following Saturday’s game, the Pats will play five of their next six in the comfy confines of the Brandt Centre against teams like the Broncos, Prince George Cougars, Kootenay ICE, Prince Albert Raiders and Lethbridge Hurricanes, matchups that the Pats can confidently aim to get points from each one.
To do that, they’ll need captain Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks) to continue his hot streak deeper into the season. The gold medalist from the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship has recorded 18 points (5G-13A) over an active nine-game point streak. His teammate Josh Mahura (Anaheim Ducks) has also been at the top of his game with six multi-point efforts in January and 15 points (5G-10A) over his last six games.
The Pats will need to be at the top of their game and more as they take on a Broncos team that is coming off a grueling U.S. Division road trip and are just 0-2-0-1 in their last three games. After having a home-heavy schedule in the first half of the season, the Broncos are being tested on their ability to win on the road. With a nine-to-six split of away-to-home games in January, the Broncos will have a seven-to-five split in February and a three-to-five split in March to close out the regular season, making each home date that much more important to them.
For all the talk of the Broncos’ offensive success being contained to one line – Aleksi Heponiemi (Florida Panthers), captain Glenn Gawdin (Calgary Flames), and Tyler Steenbergen (Arizona Coyotes) – head coach Manny Viveiros has gone out and addressed any doubters in a very significant way. Two of the biggest additions, Giorgio Estephan and Matteo Gennaro, have tallied 14 (7G-7A) and 13 (9G-4A) points respectively in the month of January and more offensive expectations will be guided their way over the coming months.
It’s more impressive when you realize Steenbergen, one of the most dangerous offensive players in the first half of the season, has just one goal in seven games this month. Now, he did have plenty of time to rest after scoring an arguably more important goal at the World Junior Championship, but it speaks to the depth of the Broncos that they can still produce a 6-2-1-1 record in their last 10 while missing one of their better goal scorers. This is a team that isn’t just build to contend in the Eastern Conference, but one very much intending to be present at the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup.
A steady amount of the Broncos’ success has come through their power play. Having converted on 58 of 180 opportunities this season, the Broncos sit first in the WHL with a power play success rate of 32.2 per cent. As successful power plays go, so do successful teams in the WHL as history has shown. In the past five seasons, five different teams (Edmonton, Portland, Kelowna, Lethbridge, and Regina) have had the top power play in the league and have also combined four four conference championships and one Ed Chynoweth Cup after Kelowna’s victory in the 2014-15 campaign.
Regardless of who comes out ahead in Saturday’s battle, it’s clear that the war between the two clubs is far from over and could even feature in a first-round playoff matchup in late March.
Tune in to Sportsnet’s Saturday Showcase to catch all the action live from Speedy Creek!
Head coach: John Paddock
Leading scorers: C Cameron Hebig (34-33-67); C Matt Bradley (29-27-56); D Josh Mahura (17-33-50)
Leading goaltender: Ryan Kubic (26 GP, 12-12-2-0, 3.72 GAA, .884 SV%)
Power play: 10th – 22.6%
Penalty kill: 20th – 73.8%
Injuries/unavailable: C Jake Leschyshyn (lower body, day-to-day); C Scott Mahovlich (lower body, one-to-two weeks); RW Emil Oksanen (upper body, day-to-day); D Liam Schioler (upper body, indefinite)
Swift Current Broncos
Head coach: Manny Viveiros
Leading scorers: C Aleksi Heponiemi (23-66-89); C Glenn Gawdin (37-50-87); C Tyler Steenbergen (36-35-71)
Leading goaltender: Stuart Skinner (37 GP, 18-17-2-0, 3.20 GAA, 0.901 SV%, 5SO)
Power play: First – 32.2%
Penalty kill: Fourth – 79.9%
Injuries/Unavailable: D Sahvan Khaira (lower body, one week)
Sept. 27 – Swift Current 5 at Regina 3
Jan. 6 – Regina 2 Swift Current 4
Jan. 27 – Regina at Swift Current*
Jan. 28 – Swift Current at Regina
Mar. 16 – Swift Current at Regina
Mar. 17 – Regina at Swift Current
*Sportsnet Saturday Showcase broadcast